SPARC Team Lights Up Philadelphia

“Re-Imagining School Futures” was the research theme of this year’s Student Participatory Action Research Collaborative (SPARC). Grade 10 students explored issues relevant to them and considered what changes they could make to improve the experiences of younger students as they progress through school. SPARC is a research consortium that mobilizes student insights and voices to improve school culture, policy and practice.

Twenty Grade 10 students traveled to Philadelphia last week to present their research findings at the University of Pennsylvania. Crescent was one of ten independent schools participating in the research conference and the only Canadian school in attendance. “It was a great opportunity to learn about issues in our educational lives, as well as the research methods of leading educational institutions,” says Oliver Zhu.

Crescent’s team presented four projects. Brotherhood Bonds focused on creating social connections between the school divisions; Digital Distraction explored the impact of mobile phones on academics; Student-Teacher Relationships examined the dynamics between educators and students; and the final project, Finding Balance in the School Year, compared the semestered timetable system to full-year. 

During their year-long research project, the students developed research questions, executed data collection and analysis, and formulated recommendations. These included making dedicated time for students to build connections across divisions, empowering students with the responsibility of managing their own mobile devices, setting clear expectations and celebrating progress to support the student-teacher relationship, and switching back to a semestered timetable.

“I had the boys take a step back every once in a while and observe their community,” says Trish Cislak, Crescent’s Head of Libraries and Research, who supervises the SPARC program. “They knew they would need the courage to ask questions and challenge the status quo to help us go from good to great.”

Critical thinking, executive functioning, collaboration, and communication are just some of the skills the boys developed throughout the process. “All of those skills are transferable, and I asked the boys to reflect on how they might use these them in other areas of their lives,” says Cislak. “They were able to witness their own evolution.”

In a new development, seven Grade 11 students from last year’s SPARC group have taken their research to the next level. They studied the topics of loneliness and belonging, and achieving academic success through student-teacher relationships. A pilot project called Tracking the Impact has the boys learning about the outcomes of their recommendations in the second year of implementation.